Mathematician of the Month – Ramanujan

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The fact that Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar has a feature film on his life called The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan speaks volumes about the greatness of this Indian-born mathematician. The downside to his great intellect? He was so far ahead of his time and his work was so unorthodox, that even the most celebrated scholars of his times couldn’t really understand him! It is only now, more than 80 years after he passed away that we are beginning to comprehend his work and apply it to computing and complicated physics.

Thanks to the English mathematician G H Hardy, Ramanujan came to England. But he was known for certain quirks. For instance, he refused point blank to wear shoes or socks. People started referring to him as a nutcase as he was in the habit of lying face down in a cot while working on mathematical problems, and that too on a slate with chalk rather than using pen and paper. The most infuriating habit of all – especially to his fellow mathematicians – was that Ramanujan would rub out all his complicated workings with his elbow once he solved a mathematical problem and just leave behind the solutions on his slate! As a result of which mathematicians, even today, are still in the process of figuring out how exactly this mastermind worked them all out so correctly.

The most popular story about Ramanujan comes from a visit G H Hardy made to him when he was on his deathbed. Hardy didn’t know what to say to cheer him up, so he commented on the boring number of his taxi – 1729. Our genius, even in that ill state, was instantly inspired and sat up: “1729 is a fascinating number! It is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways!”

In his short yet extremely fruitful life, this mathematical prodigy rediscovered previously known theorems, produced new theorems of his own accord, independently compiled nearly 4000 results of identities and equations and made remarkable contributions to the fields of mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions.

G H Hardy summed it up perfectly when he said: “Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems to orders unheard of, and whose mastery of continued fraction was beyond that of any mathematician in the world.” Undoubtedly, he was one of a kind, the only one in his league.

3 Reading Games for the Elementary Classroom

I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to play, so it makes sense to use games as learning tools in the classroom. That’s what I did back in those years when I wanted my first graders to learn and polish their reading skills; I introduced some fun and interactive reading games that helped motivate them to become better readers. These games can be used along with online reading games for a balanced reading experience. Feel free to check them out!

9610012698_84910f7432_z-1SAD_Amidon 70” by US Department of Education, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guess the Word

Skills taught – Word recognition and sequencing

How to Play

  • Identify a “secret” word from a random chapter or story.
  • Write that word on a piece of paper.
  • Give your students a hint of the word’s location in the book; for instance, you can say “The word is on page 79.”
  • Let the students take turns asking you yes-no questions to help them arrive at the correct answer. For instance they might ask “Is the word on the top half or the bottom half of the page?” Or, “Does it come before the word “careless”?
  • The student who zeroes in on the correct word wins the round.
  • Continue playing the game for as many rounds as you want to. Once the students have mastered the rules, they can play the game in small groups.

The Reading Wagon

A reading wagon is a good investment for your classroom. Acquire a wagon or use any pull vehicle and invite your students to decorate it. Then encourage them to fill it up with their favorite books. Even better, have everyone collect books that fit into a theme they are studying in class and place them all in the wagon. When it’s time to do independent reading, choose a student to pull the wagon around and deliver books to her fellow readers. Each time the wagon stops, students can choose a book and read it. The wagon can go around again when reading time is over and collect all the books.

Spell It

Skills – Spelling and vocabulary

How to Play

  • This variation on the classic Spelling Bee is loads of fun to play in the classroom. First, invite the students to form a circle.
  • Give them a word to spell. The first student says the first letter, the second student says the second letter and the round continues until the word has been spelled.
  • A student who provides the wrong letter must sit down.
  • When the word is completed, the next student says “Done!” and the student next to him must sit down.
  • The game continues until only one student is left standing.

Elementary students would hopefully enjoy playing these games and become better readers as a result. What do you think?

Mathematician of the Month – Archimedes

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Archimedes of Syracuse – a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer, an astronomer, an inventor, a scientist – there was absolutely nothing that this brilliant man couldn’t do! No wonder he is considered to be the greatest mathematician of classical times and one of the greatest till date.

Archimedes’ first tryst with fame came when the ruler of those times, King Hieron, built a ship which was too heavy to go into the sea (Why did he build ‘a ship’ anyways if it couldn’t sail? Archimedes must have had a good laugh at the majesty!). Our budding genius was the savior – he came up with a slick contraption made up of pulleys, levers and cog wheels, which allowed a single individual to launch the massive ship into the waters, all the while sitting back in a chair and relaxing with a cool drink in his hands! And hence the famous Archimedes quote: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth!”

What’s more, this prodigy also had a hand in fighting with the Romans. Legend has it that he helped the army build huge wacky catapults that hurled boulders through oncoming ships and mirrors that reflected the sunlight onto ships, which resulted in them erupting into flames, even before they got close to the land! The best story of all is that of a gigantic crane he constructed that had the capability to reach over the wall, lift entire ships up, shake them around till they rattled and then drop them back into the seas – upside down! Must have been a sight to behold!

To put it in a nutshell, here is a man who invented the water screw, made war machines, made a heat ray, created a miniature planetarium, worked with pulleys and levers, invented calculus (to the woes of many like me, no doubt), invented the odometer and is more famous for his inventions in life than just math alone!

His last words supposedly were: “Don’t disturb my circles!” as a Roman soldier walked across his drawings in the sand for his latest mathematical theorem. The soldier was so incensed, that he stabbed the mathematician. Thus came to an end the extraordinary life of the greatest ‘Eureka’ genius in Greek history.

How to Come up with a Great Science Fair Project Idea and What to do with It

For wannabe scientists, science fairs are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience with the process of scientific research. Small fairs can be loads of fun for scientifically-inclined kids, while the bigger ones come with generous university scholarship funding or internships for winners. Here’s how you can come up with a great science fair project idea and make the most of it.

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Choose a Good Science Fair Project Idea

  • A “good” science fair project idea is one that interests and challenges you. Never mind if it’s something completely new and untried – you will grow as a scientist only by delving into unexplored territories and learning more along the way. You are most likely to find you enjoy an area you might never have picked otherwise.
  • While a complicated-looking project does not guarantee success, topics that are too easy – “What types of glue are the strongest?” – are unlikely to impress the judges unless you are going to study the molecular structure of each type of glue. However, in most cases, a student who knows his topic well will win over a student with poor presentation skills.
  • No matter what topic you choose, make sure you focus on a specific aspect that can be completed within a year. For instance, instead of working on ways to reduce global warming, focus on reducing or mitigating one cause of global warming and you’re more likely to make progress in it.

Spend Time on Background Research

Once you choose your topic, you’ll need to spend sufficient time researching the background and collecting data. This data is the backbone of your science fair project – it is the basis on which you will be building your project and the importance of collecting and understanding this information cannot be emphasized enough.  Background research helps you formulate a hypothesis, create a streamlined procedure; maybe even avoid some of the problems that might crop up during your project and definitely help you save time in the end.  The more time you spend understanding your topic, the more accurately will you be able to predict what might happen.  It will also make it easier to analyze your results and arrive at a detailed conclusion. This is the real purpose of background research.

Do not be disheartened if your data seems to difficult to decipher – some concepts need to be reread several times before you can make sense of them – the best way is to start with what you do understand and work your way upwards. Do not let unknown concepts frighten you into giving up on the science fair project idea; one of the most important reasons for doing a science project is to learn new things.

Presentation Matters

You can maximize your chances of winning by learning how to communicate your science fair project idea well.

  • Prepare a short spiel (2-5 minutes) summarizing your key findings and the theory behind the project – you will have to give this speech when you meet the judges, so keep it short and succinct.
  • Make a list of questions the judges are likely to ask you and rehearse the answers. Ask your parents, siblings or friends to pretend they are judges and practice explaining your project in simple layman terms to them.
  • If possible, create easy-to-understand graphs and diagrams on your display board and point to them during the discussion.
  • Be audible and confident while answering questions – DO NOT MUMBLE! If you do not know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Always ask for feedback from judges and visitors to improve your project and come up with a better idea next time.

Hope this helped!

Mathematician of the Month – Napier

Logarithm 1Well, what is this ‘log-in-a-rhythm’ up to? And what does this have to do with our celebrated Scottish mathematician of the month – John Napier? A lot, actually. It is this Mr. John Napier who is credited with making an incredible contribution to the field of mathematics, in the form of the invention of the mathematical concept of ‘logarithm’.

John Napier

A logarithm can be defined thus: It is a quantity representing the power to which a fixed number (the base) must be raised to produce a given number.

Didn’t get it? Well, in simpler terms, it is a method by which relatively complicated mathematical calculations involving multiplication and division can be replaced by the simpler mathematical processes of addition and subtraction to arrive at the required result. This process of simplification of large calculations paved the way ahead for many scientists of yesteryears (and is even helping them now!), leading to significant advancements in the fields of science and technology.

As with a majority of the other eminent scientists and mathematicians, Mr. Napier also led a crazy smart life of sorts. He was seen as a virtual recluse – roaming around in his nightclothes according to his whims and fancies, muttering all the while to himself. For some reason unknown to the world, he always carried around a black spider in a small box kept in his pocket.

Legend has it that once upon a time Napier suspected that one of his servants had started stealing from the estate. In order to nab the culprit, he devised a clever plan – a black rooster (that, on a brainwave from Napier, was brushed with black soot), which allegedly was blessed with the power of divination, was kept inside a shed. Each of the servants was asked to go inside and touch the rooster in question, which would eventually come up with the name of the thief. The servants did so; and as expected, one of the fellows that went in came out clean-handed and was rightly proclaimed the thief!

It is said that Napier considered the subject of mathematics more like a hobby; he enjoyed it immensely (It fails me how anyone can enjoy maths and my kids take after me – I have to put in a huge amount of effort just to get them to do their math worksheets… Phew!). . The first time he set foot in a school was at the age of 13 years. But soon he dropped out and not much of his life is known till at the age of 21 years, he bought his own castle in Scotland (aaah, if only wishes were horses, beggars – like me – would ride!). Today, it is a part of the prestigious Edinburgh Napier University.

Theorems in spherical trigonometry (maths that deals with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles), Napier’s bones (a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods) and extensive books on logarithms are just some of his contributions to astronomy and dynamics, in addition to other areas of physics. Hats off, Mr. Napier!

DIY Reading Games for the Classroom as well as Home

Kids are never tired! They are always looking for new opportunities, new tricks, and new mischief! Why don’t you channelize the bundles of energy with these reading games that are fun, exciting, and challenging too?

Phonics Flip Book

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When children start learning their letters, the sounds that they make, and they themselves start blending the sounds, it’s time you made a phonics flip book for them. Follow the easy steps below to come up with this nifty tool.

Supplies:

  • Spiral bound index card book
  • A pair of scissors/paper knife
  • Tape
  • Marker/s

It’s ideal to divide the flip chart into three sections for three letter words but you can go ahead by splitting it into four sections to help early readers with their consonant blends.

Cut out the number of sections you want with a sharp paper knife and label each index card with a letter from a-z. You can also add a section for vowels in the center or for common consonant blends like fr, sc, sl, etc. if you’re making the flip book for a little older children.

The objective of a phonics flip chart is not to spell out words impeccably but be able to sound them out perfectly. So if you r child makes a word from the flip book such as ‘SL-I-N’, don’t discourage them, instead appreciate their effort to sound out the imperfect word! Consider blinking the lights when your child sounds out a real word!

Tape the perforations to ensure the flip book lives for long!

Leftover Plastic Easter Egg Cups

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What do you do with leftover Easter egg plastic cups? Here is a novel way of putting them into good use.

Supplies:

  • Plastic Easter eggs (one for each word family)
  • Permanent marker
  • Baking pan
  • Sand

Before you begin prepping for the game, have the kids count the number of Easter egg cups you’ve got in hand; it’s never boring to sneak in a little counting lesson, you see!

Write a word family on the pointy side of the egg cup like, am, in, ed, at, etc. On the other side, write letters, spaced out from one another, that will make both a perfect and an imperfect word when connected with the word family.

Now comes the fun part! Spread a thin layer of sand on the baking pan; the layer should be thin enough to allow finger-writing on it.

Hand over an egg cup to the child and have her make a word from it. If she makes a perfect word, she gets to write that word on the pan of sand! Isn’t that exciting!

Science Games to Teach Environmental Awareness

When you think science games, it is often physics games that come to mind. After all, any game that is built with a physics engine serves as a great physics game. They’re fun to play, and they help students understand concepts such as acceleration and conservation of energy. Angry Birds and Portal are great examples of fun games that are used to teach physics to students.

However, science games are about a lot more than physics. There are great science games that teach nearly every science topic, from how the body fights cancer to how pollution forms in the environment. That’s right, you can teach your child to look after nature without even sending them outdoors. Here are three great science games to teach environmental awareness to kids.

Sim City Zoningsim city 4 Zoning and Roads” by haljackey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. SimCity EDU: Pollution Challenge

In this game, kids take on the role of a mayor along with all the city-planning and decision-making that comes with the position. The focus is on keeping pollution levels to a minimum while also ensuring that all other aspects of city life function smoothly. While SimCity may not be a science game, kids who play it come to realize how various factors contribute to the pollution level of a city. They understand how pollution-control measures can be put to effect in a practical way to reduce negative impact on the population. This game is a great way to take environmental issues out of textbooks and show kids how they affect everyday life. Playing this game is likely to make kids more conscious about how simple decisions can make a difference to the health of the environment.

  1. Citizen Science

This science game was conceptualized by Kurt Squire when he realized that there were lakes in downtown Madison that people couldn’t swim in. In Citizen Science, players try to find out why the local lake is so polluted by traveling through time and collecting evidence. They meet various characters responsible for the pollution of the lake and build strong arguments to convince them to change their behaviour. They use various scientific tools to conduct research about the pollution in the lake, and learn a great deal about lake ecosystems. They also understand the long-term effects of pollution on the environment. Eventually players must change the course of history and prevent the lake from becoming as polluted as it was before the quest.

  1. Web Earth Online

This is a great science game that lets kids understand what life is like for animals living in the wild. Players choose what animal they would like to play as, and then go about their life trying to survive in the natural environment. They must deal with natural climatic conditions as well as the threat posed by predators. Web Earth Online is a multiplayer game – players interact with each other as friends or foes depending on which species they belong to. Players are sensitized to the struggles faced by animals and are likely to be more thoughtful towards animals in real life after playing this game.

Mathematician of the Month – Pascal

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Blaise Pascal was an extremely gifted Frenchman who spent a majority of his life devoted to God and the Christian faith. However, he was a genius mathematician who as a young boy and was saved from becoming just another obscure mathematician due to his remarkable contributions and discoveries.

When he was a kid, he was amazing at geometry and not having known about some mathematical discoveries, he rediscovered many of Euclid’s findings. At the age of 18, he invented an adding machine that seemed way ahead of its time. His invention was so well received that there is a computer language that is named after him.

Pascal and another top mathematician called Fermat invented probability in a bid to help a friend who had a gambling problem and was losing a lot of money. It turned out to be one of the most widely used branches of mathematics and perhaps the most important.

While working on the theory of probability, he did what he was slowly starting to get recognized for = rediscovering. He rediscovered an ancient Chinese triangle that is now popularly known as Pascal’s Triangle. I could go on about this triangle but it would give me you a headache so I won’t go there.

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At 23, Pascal unfortunately developed a condition called dyspepsia which along with his insomnia made his life extremely difficult. Descartes suggested he should stay in bed and live on a diet of beef tea. This didn’t help him. Shortly after, he had a freak accident where he dangled from a bridge and his horses drowned. He convinced himself that it was a sign from God, telling him to give up Math. Vowing to live a more spiritually oriented life, he lived with Math. 16 years later, he died from stomach cancer.

Apart from his mathematical contributions, he is known as the inventor of the one-wheel wheelbarrow, of hydraulics and of public transport. It is safe to say he lived a very full life – the effects of his great work are felt even to this day.

How to Teach Children to be Pragmatic

It’s very important for kids to learn the language of pragmatism from an early age. The pragmatic language involves specific ways of communication, sometimes also known as ‘social skills’. Kids must learn the use of language for different reasons such as greetings, farewells, asking questions, narrating anecdotes, etc. It’s important to change the language based on each type of communication, for example that with a teacher, a peer, a parent, et al. Pragmatic skills also involve turn-taking while talking and not interrupting, introducing new topics, correcting errors or altering something in a different way when a message is not understood the first time, maintaining eye contact and correct body distance while talking, and knowing how to talk to different groups of people (peers versus adults). So what’s the best way to introduce kids to the pragmatic language and help them master it? Check out the following.

Inside My ClassroomImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/knittymarie/4802941163

Day-to-day happenings at home contribute significantly in developing a child’s pragmatic language skills. Encourage your child to greet parents and siblings at the breakfast table, say goodbye to whoever is at home while leaving for school, and wish a ‘good night’ before retiring to bed every night. Praise your child if she exhibits good communication skills.

Have you ever thought that the scientific method may be useful in contributing significantly to a child’s pragmatic skills? The scientific method is more than just a way of approaching sciences; it’s a way we live. The scientific method of studying has been developed taking into account our day-to-day lives and therefore devising the best possible way to approach a solution. The approach of the scientific method includes five very pragmatic steps – hypothesis, formulation, experiment, and conclusion. The four steps will help any child even beyond her science lessons – to understand life with a pragmatic approach. So have your child solve such scientific method worksheets which explain each step in detail and inspire her to adopt the approach in her day-to-day life.

Role-playing with children is another great way to help them becomes pragmatic in their approach. Pretend to be a teacher, a peer, a parent, or a stranger and converse with your child. Talk about various problems that are specific to each role and try to elicit a reaction from the child. Here are a few questions for two of the roles mentioned on which you can base the role-play.

Teacher

  • How long does it take you to reach school? Is there a better way to commute?
  • If you forgot to get your stationery on a math project day, what would you do?
  • If there’s just one chalk in the classroom and your friend is using it to demonstrate a problem on the board but you need it urgently for a project that the teacher has assigned to you. How would you approach your friend or tackle the situation?

Peer

  • Your best friend is going for a movie with her neighbor-friends. She insists you accompany her even though you not comfortable with them. How would you react/what would you do?
  • You are appearing for an exam and you notice your neighbor has not got a single pen/pencil with her. You haven’t got any spare stationery either. What would you do?

Practice story telling with the kids. Provide kids with connecting clues and sequences and help them string them together to form a story. For example, to weave a story on a day out to an aquarium with family, supply her with clues such as ‘when did you wake up’, ‘how did you go’, ‘who went with you’, ‘where did you go’, how were the animals at the aquarium’, ‘have you bought any souvenir from there’, ‘would you like to go back to the aquarium on another day’. Give her the freedom to use her imagination to tell the story, so don’t interrupt her if she sneaks in unreal events!

It’s important to be pragmatic and give your child the opportunity to develop her pragmatic side of personality with these tips.

Learning Activities with Water Beads

Water beads are such a versatile yet hardly explored tool for learning that you’ll not realize its benefits unless you start playing with them. Add a handful of water beads to the child’s activity time (well monitored to ensure kids don’t swallow the beads) the next time she brings out her toys and see the difference. Learning will reach a different level altogether with the effective play tool.

Learning Math with Water Beads

Have fun simply counting the tactile, colorful water beads with the kids. Line up a handful of water beads in a row and take out a couple from it. Ask kids to count how many remain. Add a few and ask them to recount. Play the symbol game where you write two digits on the left of an ‘equal’ sign and a resultant on the right. Ask the kids to guess the math symbol which will get the resultant and have them write the symbol with water beads. Though water beads don’t hold any topical significance in this activity, kids will be eager to play it out just to enjoy the tactility of the beads. If you are playing with a group younger than 6-7 year olds, here are a couple of more activity ideas.

  • Have them put red beads in one spot and the yellow ones in another. Ask them to count both the groups individually as well as together.
  • Have kindergarteners make shapes and patterns with the beads. You can choose to make the first shape and ask them to follow you.
  • Ask them to count if they’ve got more blue water beads or white water beads? If they have mastered their math by now, ask them to count the difference in the number of beads of the two colors.

Learning Science with Water Beads

It’s time to explore the science behind water beads that swell up to look like the way they do. Start by handing over an unopened pack of water beads to the kids. Let them experience the fun of these tactile beads from the beginning. Have them play with these beads which have not been soaked in water yet. They’ll be coarse to touch, similar to M&M candies. Keep a notebook handy to document the experiences step by step. Read out the packet instructions to the kids and have them follow. The steps will mostly ask you to add a liter of water to a packet of beads. Find out if the kids are surprised at this stage at the proportion of water to the beads. Let the beads soak in the water and the kids marvel at the change of the beads’ appearance. To add more fun, divide the beads into three bowls and add a few drops of food color to the water in each to get colorful beads. Let kids squash, squeeze, squish, and smash the beads and understand why the beads swelled up. Encourage them to test out the properties of the swollen beads and compare these with the ones with which they started. Do they roll, bounce, go flat or back to their original shape? Explore the possibilities with the kids.

Learning English with Water Beads

Right at the beginning, we told you water beads are versatile. Well, here is an English activity too with the multipurpose water beads! Play this activity with the kids before the water beads go all dry and you have to throw them away. Fill up a bowl with squishy water beads and add a number of letters into the bowl. Instead of using tongs or another similar tool to pull out the alphabets, blindfold the kids and have them put their fists into the bowl and pull out any three random letters. Next, ask them to make a syllable or a word with them. If the letters cannot make up a word or a syllable, you can give them an imaginary vowel to complete the task. You’ll be surprised at how long this alphabet game can go on!

Explore the many learning possibilities of water beads with the kids as you play with them!